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District hospitals in Sindh connected through telemedicine network

They added that most of the cases were reported in the second week of May, during Eid holidays and during the second spell of hot weather witnessed in end of last month.

Although no fatality was reported, nor any child was admitted for treatment in any of the hospitals for a long period, the health authorities and experts believe that the situation serves as a wake-up call for the health system in rural parts of the province.

“A large number of children suffering from diarrhoea [caused by gastroenteritis], viral fever, upper respiratory tract infections and fever with fits were brought to emergency rooms of different hospitals across the province,” said Dr Irfan Habib, medical director, ChildLife Foundation, which managed emergency services at government hospitals across Sindh’s districts.

“The current wave of hot weather badly affected children in the month of May and the incidents of paediatric cases witnessed a sharp rise. We keep advising parents to keep their children at home and prevent them from unnecessary exposure to the sun while plenty of water should be given to children of more than six months of age.”

An official at the Sindh health department admitted that though emergency services for children in rural hospitals had improved during the last few years, the treatment and prevention side still required a lot more focus and work.

Public-private partnership

The provincial health department, he added, started opening paediatric emergency centres in 2010 under the public-private partnership with the ChildLife Foundation starting from Civil Hospital Karachi.

“Among the 30 districts we have introduced the model of ‘hub’ and ‘spoke’. And of them, nine government teaching hospitals are hub and 30 district hospitals are spokes,” he said.

“Through telemedicine and telecommunication, we have connected these centres with best human resources and treatment available. By the year 2022, we want to extend this facility to the taluka hospital level through the ChildLife Foundation and it provides absolutely free treatment under the Sindh government funding.”

The plan is ready for expansion in the delivery of emergency services and under the concept of hub and spoke system, nine major centres — five in Karachi and one each in Hyderabad, Larkana, Sukkur and Nawabshah — are ready to act like a hub while telemedicine will connect the THQ hospitals like spokes providing required services to children across Sindh.

“Technology is very important so we are using telemedicine,” said Dr Ahson Rabbani of the ChildLife Foundation.

“We have connected all district hospitals in Sindh through a telemedicine network, and five districts of Balochistan are also connected with this system. Telemedicine systems have been set up in district hospitals and a senior doctor is available round-the-clock at the Civil Hospital Karachi with nurses at the site who administer paediatric medicine, which is advised by the telemedicine doctor.”

He said under the fresh initiative a total of 90 tehsils in Sindh with some 50 THQ hospitals and the rest of them basic health units will be covered by 2022.

Similarly, he added, 32 telemedicine satellite centres in Balochistan will be set up to help reduce child mortality in the province by providing paediatric emergency care.

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